By Evan Hoopfer, Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 10/11/13 9:04pm
With Spartan Stadium’s 500th game only hours away, The State News’s football reporter Stephen Brooks sent five questions to the Indiana Daily Student’s Evan Hoopfer. Here is are the answers to the top questions leading up to Saturday’s showdown against the Hoosiers.
1. It seems like Penn State was the first meaningful win in what has been and up-and-down season so far for Indiana. From what you’ve seen, are the Hoosiers improved from a year ago or worse?
If you’re asking about this year specifically, the defense has been much better in the last couple games. They were great against Penn State and actually were pretty good against Missouri. IU had a pick-six in Missouri game, and the Tigers scored late in the game, so they really gave up 31 meaningful points. This is a drastic improvement from earlier this year, and the Navy game specifically. They gave up 444 rushing yards against the Navy option, and couldn’t get a stop all night. So this season in a very small sample size, the defense is improving. It’s still not any where close to MSU’s unit, but they are better then what they were earlier this season.
2. The offensive stats are impressive to this point, so what makes the unit so dangerous in your opinion?
Pick your poison with the Hoosier offense. In the running game, sophomore Tevin Coleman took the starting job from fifth-year senior Stephen Houston before the year, and hasn’t looked back. He is a freak athlete who has shown flashes of brilliance. He is averaging over six yards a carry this year, so their is no let up with the running game.
The receiving corps of Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes was historic last year and all are back for this season. This is from an article I wrote this back in August, “IU’s leading three receivers ranked in the top 10 for receptions and yards per game in the conference last season … This was the first time one Big Ten team had three representatives on both lists since the Big Ten started cataloging receiving statistics in 2004.” Cody Latimer was named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list. He’s caught over 100 receiving yards in his last three games. Shane Wynn is a 5-foot-7 speedster who’ll play slot. He returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this season, and his speed is definitely respected on the Penn State defense.
Earlier this season I talked to Penn State safety Malcolm Willis, who said of Wynn and the other two receivers, “Those guys, especially a guy like Shane Wynn — I’m actually good friends with Shane — he might be one of the toughest guys to cover in the slot that I’ve played against or that I’ve seen. Those three guys are a big problem to handle.” And then senior Kofi Hughes is a solid route runner with sure hands. Also, tight end Ted Bolser is one of the best in the nation. He was named the national tight end of the week for his performance against Navy. IU will score. The question is can they score enough to make up for the defense’s short-comings.
3. On that same note, how do you think Indiana’s offense will hold up against MSU’s top-ranked defense?
Interesting question. The only defense they struggled against was Missouri, they couldn’t get anything done all night due to MSU’s pass rush. But every other game they have been prolific. In my opinion, IU will score because they score against just about everyone. Penn State was giving up 14.5 points per game before their game against IU, and the Hoosiers scored 14 points in 12 seconds at one point during the game. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t score over 30 points.
4. For those that don’t follow the Hoosiers, what happened with Tre Roberson and the quarterback situation? Nate Sudfeld has obviously become the guy this year, but Roberson seemed to show a lot of potential. Was Roberson’s injury the thing that set him back in that race?
All preseason long, it was a three man race between Nate Sudfeld, Tre Roberson and Cam Coffman for the starting quarterback job. In the first game against Indiana State, Roberson got the start and was effective. He ended up with a minor injury, a bruised rib I believe, so he didn’t play the rest of the game. But like I said, he was effective. However, Sudfeld came in and wowed. He was every bit as good as Roberson, if not better.
The next game against Navy, Roberson got the start again. In his first two series, he got zero first downs and the offense was stagnant. Then Sudfeld was put in and the offense was clicking the whole game. The defense just couldn’t get a stop against Navy, that’s why they lost. but Sudfeld was great. Ever since then he’s been the starter. Roberson comes in around the goal line and uses his legs to get it in. They use him exclusively as a wildcat guy now. Just a change of pace type of quarterback now. But make no mistake, this is Sudfeld’s team.
5. What will be the key for Indiana to get its first road win of the season, in your opinion? And throw in a prediction if you care to.
This is their first road game, after having their first five in Bloomington. If the defense holds MSU to around 35 points, I think they have a real shot of winning. But I don’t think they will. Being on the road for the first time, playing a very physical team in Michigan State, I expect IU to loose but for the game to be closer then expected. My score prediction is MSU- 38, IU- 31.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 10/08/13 10:09am
Sophomore Connor Cook solidified himself as MSU’s No. 1 quarterback in Saturday’s 26-14 win at Iowa, but there’s some shifting going on elsewhere in the backfield.
Head coach Mark Dantonio gave freshman running back Delton Williams his first carries of the season against the Hawkeyes, losing his redshirt in the process. Hanging on to a 17-14 lead, the Spartans fed Williams three straight plays before freshman kicker Michael Geiger hit a 35-yard field goal.
Dantonio later said Williams’ opportunity was a result of redshirt freshman Riley Bullough moving to fullback as sophomore Trevon Pendleton’s backup.
“Well, we felt like we needed to play three running backs, that we had to have three ready to play, and at that point as of (Saturday) we really had two ready to play,” Dantonio said.
Riley had played a little bit, but the transition to tailback — whether it’s an injury or whatever the case — sort of stalled a little bit, and we saw some positive with Delton, and we also saw some positive with (true freshman) Gerald Holmes, but we opted for this decision in this regard.”
Williams was impressive and displayed power in his nine rushes for 32 yards against the Hawkeyes. Dantonio, who previously compared Williams physically to former Spartan Le’Veon Bell, said the freshman gives his backfield a new element along with juniors Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill.
“(Williams) missed one that could have went to the house, but missed the cut in there a little bit. But I think he’s just a different type of back than Langford and Nick Hill, and I think you need that changeup,” he said. “You need the changeup in there where you’re not playing against the same guy all the time.”
Bullough transitioned from linebacker to running back during spring practice, where his 48 yards led all rushers in the Green and White game. His role has been limited during the regular season, however, as he averages 16.6 yards per game.
His latest move is two-pronged in theory: it gives MSU both depth and a pass-catching threat at fullback. Dantonio said Bullough will contribute in “pony” sets with him and another running back on the field or as a short-yardage runner.
At one point, both players appeared bound to play linebacker eventually. With Williams emerging on offense, Bullough won’t be moving back to that side of the ball this season, either.
“It would be more difficult for him to transfer position back to defense right now, although he has a mindset for it and he has the background of it,” Dantonio said of Bullough.
Collectively, the Spartans rushed 37 times for 135 yards against Iowa. Langford leads MSU on the year with 311 yards on 72 carries and four touchdowns.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 10/06/13 4:51pm
After Saturday’s 26-14 road win over Iowa, the guys in Green and White had plenty to talk about. Getting the “W” in their first Big Ten game of the season garnered these reactions from the Spartans:
By Dillon Davis, Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 10/05/13 11:57am
Iowa City, Iowa — With MSU set to kick off its Big Ten schedule at Iowa today at noon, State News football reporters Stephen Brooks and Dillon Davis offer predictions on the matchup.
Stephen: With clouds in the sky and rain in the forecast, this one should live up to the hard-nosed, physical billing of past clashes between these two. It’s a typical Big Ten Saturday here at Kinnick Stadium and I think MSU has a slight edge coming off a bye week. The Spartans were impressive in a road loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, and if they can show some improvement from the open week, I like their odds. It will be tough to move the ball against Iowa’s No. 7-ranked defense, but I say MSU makes a long-awaited big play late to steal this one in Iowa City, Iowa. Given the Spartans’ tendency to bottom out offensively, I’m giving them one more vote of confidence to figure it out and set a positive tone for the conference slate.
Prediction: MSU 20, Iowa 17
Dillon: On offense, the Hawkeyes are well established at a few positions that have been question marks for the Spartans this season. Quarterback Jake Rudock has thrown for six touchdowns and four interceptions to go along with close to 1,000 yards passing this season, while running back Mark Weisman has been a steady option in the backfield. However, Iowa has yet to take on a defense of MSU’s caliber — the closest being Minnesota, who has the nation’s 62nd defense — and they won’t have that type of success against the Spartans. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook needs to be steady while the wide receiving corps need to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. If the Spartans can have any sort of consistency on offense, I really like their chances today.
Prediction: MSU 24, Iowa 17
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 10/02/13 5:31pm
Iowa has six players from Michigan high schools on its roster. Many of them MSU recruited, and head coach Mark Dantonio probably wishes he had a few wearing green and white right now.
One of those players is starting wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior from Michigan prep powerhouse Brother Rice High. Martin-Manley has caught 26 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown through five games this year in addition to a pair of punt return touchdowns.
“Yeah, I’ve been very impressed. (He is) probably a lot like B.J. Cunningham coming out of high school,” Dantonio said of Martin-Manley. “Played for Brother Rice and coach (Al) Fracassa. We had him in our camp. … He’s a very good football player. So obviously wish he was here, but he’s not, so you deal with it.”
Rivals.com deemed Martin-Manley a two-star recruit in the class of 2010 and the No. 34 player in Michigan.
Two defensive starters for the Hawkeyes, tackle Carl Davis and true freshman cornerback Desmond King, also bolted from the Great Lakes State after high school. Davis is a Sterling Heights Stevenson High product while King hails from Detroit.
Davis and King have played in every game and notched 15 and 18 tackles, respectively. Dantonio compared the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Davis to MSU’s last All-American defensive lineman.
“Carl Davis, another guy that we recruited. A good football player,” Dantonio said. “Big, physical, reminds you a little of Jerel Worthy in some ways, the way he’s been playing, especially thus far here this year.”
Davis was the No. 14-ranked player in Michigan in 2010 and given a three-star rating from Rivals, while King also was given three stars as the state’s No. 16 player in the class of 2013.
Dantonio credited Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, an MSU football alumnus and former graduate assistant, for the Hawkeyes’ recruiting success in the state.
“They’ve always done a good job recruiting in Michigan, I think, and Phil Parker is a guy that’s played here obviously, and he’s got ties here, so they’ve done a nice job going in that direction,” he said.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 09/30/13 4:44pm
MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was a hot subject on Twitter this morning when CBS college football writer Bruce Feldman linked Narduzzi to the newly vacant head coaching job at Connecticut.
Former Huskies head coach Paul Pasqualoni was fired on Monday after his team started 0-4. On Sept. 21, the Huskies nearly upset Michigan at home before falling, 24-21.
Narduzzi’s name has been the focus of coaching rumors for years now, and he’s reportedly turned down big-money coordinator offers at Texas A&M and Tennessee in the past.
With the Spartans currently ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense, allowing just 188.8 yards per game, he surely will be targeted for head coaching vacancies once again this offseason. At this point in the season a year ago, MSU’s defense was ranked No. 9 nationally and giving up 263.4 yards per contest.
The Spartans finished last season with the No. 4 defense and No. 6 in 2011 under Narduzzi’s command. Before the 2012 season began, MSU more than doubled his salary to $500,000 to help keep him in East Lansing.
As Feldman’s tweet mentioned, Narduzzi has East Coast ties being born in Connecticut and starting three years at linebacker at Rhode Island from 1987-89 after transferring from Youngstown State.
FootballScoop.com later posted a tweet adding to the buzz of a possible connection between Connecticut and Narduzzi.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 09/29/13 8:22pm
Iowa 23 Minnesota 7
The Hawkeyes, MSU’s next opponent, knocked off their rivals and took home the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the second straight year behind 147 yards from workhorse running back Mark Weisman. Iowa pitched an impressive defensive effort in its conference opener, holding the Golden Gophers to just 165 total yards. Quarterback Jake Rudock went 15-for-25 passing and 218 yards for the Hawkeyes, but it was the running game that carried Iowa with 246 rushing yards. Following a 19-16 double overtime loss at home last year, the Spartans will travel to Iowa on Saturday to begin Big Ten play.
“Every year, you’re gonna see a team that plays extremely hard and they’re gonna be fundamentally sound both offensively and defensively,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said of the Hawkeyes.
“And they’re gonna do what they do; they’re a little bit like us, they do what they do and they do it well. I think right now they’ve sort of pulled themselves together and are playing very, very well. So that’s who they are and they’re gonna be a well-coached football team.”
Illinois 50 Miami (Ohio) 14
Holding a 36-0 lead at halftime, Illinois blew out the winless RedHawks behind 601 yards of total offense. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 278 yards and five touchdowns in the win as Illinois continues to look much improved from a year ago when it went winless in the Big Ten. Two Miami quarterbacks combined for 95 yards and a touchdown on seven-of-15 passing. The Spartans will visit Champaign, Ill., on Oct. 26.
Northern Illinois 55 Purdue 24
The struggles continued on Saturday for first-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, as the Boilermakers got their taste of “MACtion” from the Huskies’ standout quarterback, Jordan Lynch. Purdue out-gained the Mid-American Conference power 524-402, but five turnovers doomed the Boilermakers. Lynch threw for three scores and 207 yards while adding 35 more on the ground. Purdue’s lone win this season came against FCS Indiana State. MSU hosts the Boilermakers on Oct. 19.
Ohio State 31 Wisconsin 24
The Buckeyes and Badgers squared off in another entertaining primetime matchup, with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer remaining undefeated since taking the job last year. Trailing by a touchdown, Wisconsin got the ball back on its own 10-yard line with 1:29 left to play and no timeouts. The Badgers completely botched the possession and it cost them the game. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller returned to action and passed for 198 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for 83 yards. MSU avoids both conference heavyweights in the regular season this year.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 09/24/13 9:08am
Of the many controversial moves in MSU’s 17-13 loss to Notre Dame, none invoked more uproar than head coach Mark Dantonio’s decision to bench starting quarterback Connor Cook in favor of senior Andrew Maxwell on the final drive.
On his Sunday teleconference, Dantonio defended his decision, as he did after the loss, and said he was displeased with Cook’s performance on two late drives so he opted to switch.
“I just felt a change was warranted at that time,” Dantonio said.
Maxwell replaced Cook with 2:11 left on the clock at MSU’s 33-yard line and threw three incompletions before rushing well short of the sticks on fourth-and-20. Before that final series, Maxwell had not played since the middle of the South Florida game and was mostly practicing with the scout team.
“I thought Maxwell had a chance on a second down play or a third down play,” Dantonio said. “He throws it a little bit high, but (sophomore wide receiver Aaron) Burbridge has both hands on the ball. You got to make the catch. It’s a 50-50 catch, but if he makes it, we’re on the 40. Maxwell has done a good job in two-minute situation before.
“Connor had not played as well the two previous series, and that was a decision that was made by us as a staff. I stamped my approval on the decision. It shows that I still have belief in Andrew Maxwell, which is important. You have to do the best you can with the time you have on the field, whether that’s in a two-minute situation or the 58 minutes preceding that two minute situation.”
Cook emerged as the starting quarterback after a whipping of Youngstown State and, despite some passing flaws, he has moved the ball with relative success. After being yanked in the crux of his first road game, he was openly and honestly upset.
“They said I was a little inaccurate, but I would’ve wished that the coaches had faith in me to keep me in there in a critical situation like that,” Cook said after the game.
Despite his comments, Dantonio wasn’t buying the notion that Cook’s confidence should be shaken by the late-game switch.
“I put him in the game,” Dantonio said. “We started him. We had confidence coming out of the last game. We put him in a big game against Notre Dame and kept him in there for 58 minutes. That’s significant confidence. He struggled at times throughout the game, and we didn’t lift him. I think that’s important to recognize that fact.”
The coach confirmed Cook remains the starting quarterback currently, as the sophomore mentioned on Saturday. When Maxwell entered the game, it did little to put any lingering quarterback drama to rest.
Cook has thrown for 337 yards and five touchdowns in the previous two games.
Dantonio tried to shoot down any talk of controversy, but his staff’s decisions at the end of Saturday’s game help it fester.
“We’re not in conflict,” he said. “I’m not in conflict here. I don’t want our football team in conflict. At the same time, you know, we’re coaching. We’re coaching for the next play. Right, wrong or indifferent we’re doing the very best we can do to have success for our football team. That’s the decision we made.”
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 09/23/13 10:59am
Spartan fans, I know how you feel. We are two days removed from an afternoon filled with watching bad football, accusing the refs of throwing the game and probably using some colorful language in the meantime.
But alas, it is not all bad in East Lansing. For every time you wanted to throw your phone into the television, there was a glimmer of hope in the Spartans. Was Saturday’s game ugly? Uglier than a hairless dog. But were there any bright spots in MSU’s loss? Yes, yes there were.
1. The offensive line impressed. Notre Dame’s defensive line is nothing short of massive, averaging a weight of 323 pounds. MSU’s offensive line average? 306 pounds. Instead of letting the Fighting Irish prevail in the trenches, it was all MSU for the most part.
The Spartans rushed for a solid 3.6 yards per carry and only allowed one sack. Moving forward, the Spartans will be hard pressed to find a defensive line as mammoth-like and skilled as Notre Dame’s, and with their quality game in South Bend the big men should be confident moving forward.
2. The running game is moving forward. Besides the quarterback debacle in the beginning of this season (and still ongoing as a matter of fact), another big question mark was the running game. Junior Jeremy Langford, despite having minimal experience prior to this season, has raised the eyebrows of Spartan fans.
Saturday, Langford steamrolled through Notre Dame’s defense, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Junior Nick Hill, who had 13 touches in the game, ran for 2.9 yards per carry, but had crucial first down pick-ups. Where the passing game lacks, the running game will succeed.
3. The nation’s top defense played like the nation’s top defense. Before Saturday’s game, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees had more passing yards than Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray. That’s no list to shake a stick at.
Instead of letting Rees carve up another defense, the Spartans held him to only 142 yards through the air. Take away the abundance of pass interference calls, and the Spartans held one of the top quarterbacks to a mediocre day.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 09/21/13 9:46pm
South Bend, Ind. – After failing to score on the final offensive drive of the game, the MSU football team now heads back to East Lansing with its first loss of the season, 17-13, at the hands of No. 22 Notre Dame.
The Spartans (3-1) had plenty of chances to secure a victory and, by many accounts, the team outplayed the Fighting Irish (3-1) before a near-sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium. However, dropped passes by wide receivers, multiple pass interference penalties on the defense and an untimely interception on a flea flicker by freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton altered the course of the game.
Here are three things to reflect on as the Spartans head into a bye week before opening up Big Ten play with Iowa on Oct. 5.
1. Andrew Maxwell continues to be the apple of head coach Mark Dantonio’s eye. With the game in the balance with the Spartans trailing by four points in the fourth quarter, Dantonio pulled the anointed starter, sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, in favor of the embattled senior Maxwell. What ensued was a flavored mix of MSU’s worst comedy of errors. Three dropped passes from the wide receivers. Two penalties, including a delay of game by Maxwell who hasn’t had an in-game snap in close to two weeks. And one final scramble short of the sticks. Maxwell was unable to lead the Spartans into the end zone and moreover, nobody is certain why he was in the game in the first place. Maxwell’s a nice guy and he deserves a chance to compete. But that was not even close to the time to make that decision. If Cook is the starting quarterback, you let him carry you to the end zone against Notre Dame. Anything less is a distraction. If I’m Connor Cook, I’m incredibly upset – irate, even — with the coaching staff for pulling me out of the game with the result still yet to be determined. And what is the best case scenario? Maxwell leads you to victory and now there’s two weeks of MSU quarterback circus leading up to Iowa. Is that the preferable route? Win or lose, you have to stick by your starting quarterback until he’s proven he’s unworthy of that vote of confidence.
2. R.J. Shelton should not have thrown the flea flicker. As much as the Spartans have an affinity for trick plays, Shelton needed to read the play much better than he did. At best, the play was in double coverage and still had a fantastic chance to be intercepted by the Fighting Irish. When that happens, tuck it in and run or try to throw the ball away. The Spartans were never the same after Shelton’s interception and it was a big reason why they’re going back to East Lansing with a loss. After the game, Dantonio said he made the call for the trick play, citing the need for the Spartans to get a big play in a crucial time. He’s right; the team was in need of a big play. However, I’m not sure if calling on a freshman to execute a difficult trick play is the way to go at that point of the game.
3. The Spartans might not win many games unless the defense scores points. Now, this isn’t exactly a new discovery I’m making, given the success the collective unit had against Western Michigan and South Florida to open the season. Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun continues to state his case for the NCAA’s Defensive Player of the Year and there’s a ton of talent at nearly every one of the defensive positions. There were too many penalties against the unit in the game against Notre Dame – some merited; others definitely not so – but it is a bright spot for the Spartans. Plus, the offense still is dropping way too many balls and continues to plow ahead with consistent inconsistency. Can anyone here play this game? Well, the defense can. And if the Spartans still are shooting for a chance at the Rose Bowl, they’re going to need to play out of their minds to keep the team competitive.